Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same? Plus the best ones to try.


Non alcoholic beer i have bought and drank for this review

Non alcoholic and alcohol free beers are taking over supermarket shelves left, right and centre. The entire no-lo alcohol market grew by 30% in the USA alone last year.

You will no doubt try one in the future but there are many questions around them. What alcohol do they have? Are they full of sugar? But the biggest one is usually, do they taste the same?

You may try a non alcoholic beer but you won’t buy another if you don’t like that taste.

Non alcoholic beers have a wide a taste range as alcoholic beers. There are good and bad ones like in any field. In general, a good non alcoholic beer can taste very similar to an alcoholic beer. There are a number of things to check in ingredients, nutrition and the taste itself to pick a good one.

I will explain what alcohol adds to a beer and how non alcoholic beers replace it.

There is a huge taste range and after sampling over 100 different non alcoholic beers i have a pretty good overview of the market and can steer you towards some fo the best and show you how to avoid the pitfalls.

Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same?

Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The S...
Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same

The truthful answer is that, in general, non alcohol beers taste slightly different from alcoholic beers. However no two alcoholic beers taste the same and the flavour range of non alcoholic beers is now as diverse as alcoholic ones.

I would try and think of both non alcoholic and alcoholic beers as just beers, each with a unique flavour, body and mouthfeel. Some you will like, some you won’t. Some happen to not have alcohol, some are low calorie, some are sour, some are lagers etc.

Once you stop trying to find a non alcoholic beer that tastes exactly like your favourite alcoholic beer you will simply be able to find your favourite non alcoholic beer.

Head to head comparisons

I have done a few head to head taste offs, comparing an alcoholic and non alcoholic version of a beer…

Budweiser vs Budweiser Zero

Heineken vs Heineken 0.0

Guinness vs Guinness 0.0

As i explained, i now find these a bit unhelpful now. They are different beers with different ingredients and should be tried with that in mind. I have been drinking a lot of Guinness 0.0 and now prefer the 0.0 over the draft.

Non alcoholic beers can be packed with flavour, malt, hops, bittiness just like an alcoholic beer and if you want to drink a beer without alcohol, i am sure you can find one that you find as delicious as your favourite regular beer.

What does alcohol add to beer flavour? Why is it there?

Alcohol is a byproduct of fermentation. In its simplest form, you mash your grains (usually barley) with water for natural enzymes to turn to starches in to sugars. The sugar water is called “sweet wort”.

Yeasts are added to the sweet wort and turn the sugars into carbon dioxide (the fizz) and alcohol.

They type of grain you use, how much is is roasted and the strain of yeast you use all add significantly to the flavour, and that is before you consider the hops that it is brewed with.

If you look at the nutrition of nearly all alcoholic beers, there will be carbohydrates but basically all the sugar will have been turned into alcohol. If you want a higher ABV beer, you start with more sugar in your wort.

The main flavour drivers in a beer are the types and volumes of grains used along with the hops. If you want to use more grains that can lead to more sugar and more alcohol. Alcohol can just be a by-product of brewing.

So what does the alcohol add to the beer, does it have positive flavour benefits?

Body

Most alcoholic beers have a bit more about that them than a fizzy water would. If you drink a sparkling water you know it feels light and quite thin. An alcoholic beer will have more substance, more body to it. This in part comes form the malt and hops but in a large degree from the alcohol. It can be difficult to replace and avoid your non alcoholic beer feeling thin in your mouth.

You can get a warming hum from alcohol that adds to the body and down into your throat which enhances the mouthfeel.

Mouthfeel

A good beer can be tasted all around the mouth. Mouthfeel can be defined as the textural attributes of beer, those which produce a tactile sensation in the mouth. Alcohol goes a long way to contributing to this and along with body, can be difficult to replicate.

How are non alcoholic beers made?

When considering non alcoholic beers and how they will taste or why they taste they way they do, it is important to have a rudimentary understanding on how they might be made.

In general there are 2 dominant ways they are made and often a combination of the 2 is used.

Dealcoholised

Dealcoholisation is where the beer is brewed as normal then an additional process is undertaken to removed alcohol form it, down to the desired level.

Limited fermentation

Limited fermentation can come in 2 forms. You can either brew the beer completely but due to the amount of grain or type of grain you have used, there is a limited amount of alcohol produced. Alternatively you start with the normal amount and type of grain but stop the fermentation before too much alcohol is produced.

Athletic Brewing Co and Big Drop, Drop Bear etc all 0.5%, mostly GF and vegan.

How is alcohol replaced in non alcoholic beers?

Often it is not a case of replacing the alcohol but as we have seen above, how do you brew a beer without alcohol and see what you are left with.

Some of the poor beers you really don’t want to drink will just concentrate on removing or limiting the alcohol and just bottle whatever is left. The are often cheap and sweet.

Imagine you are going to brew a normal alcoholic beer. You get 10% into the brewing and flavour development then just stop and bottle the beer. What you get is a beer lacking flavour with a large amount of sugar which hasn’t fermented but you do get a low alcohol level. This is probably the cheapest way to do it and why these nasty sweet, weak beers are cheap.

The better breweries and craft brewers try to match their product in flavour to an alcohol beer but just without the alcohol. This isn’t always easy but with modern technologies and ingredients it is becoming better than ever.

Grains

The base of all beers is grains. Predominately barley but also wheat, oats, maize and rice. You “malt” the grain to create sugar and you can roast it to darken them and increase flavour.

New types of grains are being produced that are naturally low in sugar. If you brew with a low starting sugar then you produce less alcohol but retain the same grain flavour.

Brewdog’s Nanny State (review here), is brewed with 8 different specialty malt and still comes in at 0.5% ABV

Hops

Not much changes in the hops from alcoholic to non alcoholic except that the experimentation with hops is getting bigger every year. Hops adds things like bitterness, citrus and tropical flavours and in the absence of what alcohol adds, you can go crazy with the hops and create a hugely flavoursome beer.

To use Nanny State as an example again, it is brewed with Centennial, Amarillo, Columbus, Cascade and Simcoe hops as well as having dry hops added at the end. Needless to say, it doesn’t lack flavour.

Sugar

Sugar can fill the void of the attributes that alcohol leaves, namely body and mouthfeel. You do pay a calorie price and too much leaves a sweet beer that no one want to drink.

Some brewers will add various sugar syrups that didn’t naturally come from the grains. If i’m drinking a lager/pilsner type beer with an added sugar of over 2g/100ml or so, it runs the risk of tasting too sweet unless they have brewed a really flavoursome beer.

A good example of beers with a higher sugar content but taste great are the German wheat beers. Their added sugar can be up to 3.5g/100ml to be in an “isotonic” range – the same level of nutrients as out blood. However they get away with it as they have brewed a cracking beer around it so the main flavour isn’t sweetness.

If you by a really cheap supermarket beer with a high sugar content, all you will taste is sugar and very little actual beer flavours.

The other added sugar that non and alcoholic brewers alike use is lactose, the milk sugar. This renders the beer non vegan but adds a silkiness and body to the beer as it doesn’t ferment. You will mainly find this in stouts but some specialist non alcoholic brewers use it in the light beers.

Yeasts

Yeasts add a lot to the overall flavour of the beer and the type of beer that is produced. The main difference in lagers and ales is the yeast.

New yeasts are available which convert less sugar to alcohol but still have positive flavour contributions.

If you start with a low sugar grain and use a new yeast then you can produce surprisingly little alcohol but retain most of the beer flavours you want.

Carbon dioxide

If you use a yeast that is producing less alcohol you will also produce less carbon dioxide. Unless you want a flat style of beer, carbon dioxide then needs added back.

It can be used to help with mouthfeel and body but you don’t want an overly gassy beer that is hard to digest.

Why are some non alcoholic beers 0.0% and some 0.5% ABV?

0.0% and 0.5% ABV are both considered ‘non alcoholic”. So why would you try to produce one over the other?

What you will likely notice is the big big breweries make more 0.0%, alcohol free beers, whereas the craft and specialist non alcoholic brewers make 0.5% beers, why?

The answer is a mix of PR, cost and flavours.

PR

There is lots of terminology around non alcoholic and alcohol free beers. The reality is that there is little difference in a 0.0% or 0.5% ABV beer but if you are marketing to a worldwide audience, it simplifies things if you can have “0.0% alcohol” and “alcohol free” on the labelling.

0.0% makes a beer more easily marketable so why are all non alcoholic beers not 0.0%? The answer is cost and flavour

Cost

To remove the alcohol from a beer be retain as much flavour as possible is very expensive. Spinning cone columns and alike cost a lot of money and tend to be reserved for the likes of the big supermarket brands and AB InDev beers. Budweiser, Heineken and Guinness all have to cost and capacity to remove alcohol down to 0.0% which smaller breweries can not do.

The smaller breweries use different grains and yeasts and alternative brewing techniques that whilst cheaper still result in some alcohol produced. It isn’t cost effective for them to the try and remove it completely.

Flavour

When you remove alcohol, you will remove other aromatic compounds. Now the more expensive your technique the less you loose (cost again). You can dilute down a beer to 0.0%, loosing flavour, or stop the fermentation very early before much flavour develops.

Most of the big 0.0% beers are lagers, which are not overly malty, roasted or hoppy to begin with so loosing some flavour doesn’t have a large impact.

The craft producers make more IPAs, stouts, ales which are more susceptible to flavour losses when you try to remove absolutely all the alcohol.

Ive a complete article on 0.0% and 0.5% beers and why breweries go for each, available to read here

Do non alcoholic lagers taste the same?

Despite lagers being the most prevalent beer out there, i think they are about the hardest non alcoholic beer to get right.

Other beers have lots of roasted malt, strong hops or can carry off a lot of sugar but you really don’t want a weak, sugary lager.

The best lagers tend to be the pilsner style which allows for a bit more hops and sweetness but there are still some brilliant pure lagers out there.

I would say don’t go for the supermarket cheap ones, you will regret it, and in general the smaller craft breweries out perform the big guns.

3 of the best non alcoholic lagers

Bitburger 0.0%

You wouldn’t know this is non alcoholic and maybe one of the best first beers or someone starting into alcohol free beer.

This has way more going on that basically any of the alcohol free lagers and if you had the choice, you need this pilsner unless a hardened lager only drinker.

You can check out the live Amazon price by following my link here

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Lucky Saint 0.5%

This is one of the lowest calorie, lowest carb, no sugar beers out there. It’s a really refreshing drink

I rated this one very highly as it manages to pack a big flavour punch on a skinny calorie count.

It is available in big supermarkets and online alike and defiantly worth a try if you like a lager.

You can find these on Amazon if you follow this link for live prices

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

Carlsberg 0.0

It is hard to whack this. Of note, there was a previous version of this that was higher in calories and sugar and more of a classic lager.

Carlsberg have been on a pilsner push and this is more in line with their alcoholic pilsner beer. 

Easily one of the best, if not the best, big brand lager/pilsners out there.

The nutrition is also very good and at 14kcal/100ml there aren’t many better

You can check out the live Amazon price by following my link here

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Do non alcoholic wheat beers taste the same?

I wasn’t actually a big fan of wheat beers before i started trying the non alcoholic version and now they consistently score near the top of my leaderboard.

They are strong flavoured and naturally a bit sweeter which naturally lends them to the non alcoholic market. The wheat flavour is toned down slightly with i love, but there is still huge amounts of wheat and hops to fill your mouth and provide body.

3 of the best non alcoholic wheat beers

Schneider Weisse 0.5%

Schneider Weisse i bought and drank for this review

This is a hugely impressive beer. Massive body and mouthfeel coupled with a wheaty depth of flavour ive not came across elsewhere.

This is my top ranked beer. You will not be wondering where the alcohol is, you’ll still be picking your jaw up off the floor and looking for the next one.

I reviewed this along with 7 other German non alcoholic beers here

You can check out the latest prices and deals on Amazon by following the link

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

Erdinger Alkoholfrei

Erdinger is a colossus in the German wheat beer world and even the wider world beer market. It formed a nice head and smelt like a great wheat beer.

It has a great mouth feel and not one you would say was empty and watery.

It is also an isotonic beer with nutrients in line with the blood so it can apparently rehydrate you better!

My full isotonic review is here

You can check out the latest prices and deals on Amazon by following the link

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Paulaner Weissbeir 0.0

Boom, wheat beer straight from the off. Big flavour, bit mouth feel. Almost velvetly. Certainly not empty or thin in anyway at all.

Its not overly wheaty tho. As someone who traditionally hasn’t bought these, this is great for someone new to the scene.

This is a class act. Slightly sweet but I think it gets away with it better than most.

You can check out the live Amazon price by following my link here

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Do non alcoholic ales taste the same?

3 of the best non alcoholic ales

Ales come in all shapes and sizes. I went through a phase of loving the hoppiest IPA i could buy but currently i am after a decent hop hit but not overboard mental on the citrus and tropical notes.

Nanny State is pretty hoppy but they’ve produced it at such a low calorie it has to be included.

Pine Trail is just my favourite IPA, just the right amount of hops and bitterness for me and pretty low calorie too.

St Peters Without has so much caramel and toffee that a pint of it is nearly a dessert! But once again they manage it on a shoestring calorie count. Very impressive stuff.

Nanny State

My word! BrewDog are not wrong! This has massive amounts of both hop and malt barley flavour.

There is an explosion of bitter hops. Truth be told, you are not missing alcohol or sugar. 

You aren’t reaching around for what is missing because you are trying to process the massive amount of flavour that is there.

You can buy these absolute beauties in a number of places.

Light Drinks in the UK have them and if you use the discount code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get 5% off

You can of course click through to Amazon to see if they are cheaper

In Australia you can get 10% off with code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE at CraftZero

Pine Trail

This is a low cal, basically no sugar beer. As such needs loads of falvour to get over then no alcohol or sugar. It does it brilliantly.

Not short of flavour at all. It definitely feels its getting towards a more hop heavy IPA than pale ale but the semantics don’t matter. 

This a a citrus hop and malt heavy pale ale that skirts the non alcoholic and low calorie tightrope brilliantly

For Amazon UK follow this link

UK – Light Drinks and Sober Sauce have it and you get 5% off with code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE

Australia – Craft Zero is the place to go and get 10% off with code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE

Big Drop are spreading across USA currently tho.

St Peters Without

Now i recognise this might not appeal to everyone but its right up my street. Really heavy roasted malt taste.

Caramel hit that coats the tongue. At no point do you wonder where the alcohol is cos you are so knocked down by the flavours.

To check out the price for these on Amazon then follow this link

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

Do non alcoholic dark beers taste the same?

I love a pint of stout when i am out at the bar. I could drink Guinness all night long. You would think that a big rich black stout would be very difficult to make non alcoholic but once again the no-lo market has sprung up some amazing beers

I can’t get over how impressive the Guinness 0.0 is. I now prefer it to cans of Guinness draft and i cant wait until i can taste one via the micro draught.

Big Drop has produced a lovely light hazelnut porter but the star may well be their Galactic Milk Stout. It is a bit special and has won plenty of awards.

3 of the best non alcoholic stouts

Guinness 0.0

The taste is unmistakably Guinness. In a direct taste off, a seasoned drinker will tell the difference. If you just had the 00 from the get go could you tell? Maybe. 

The question is do you care that the taste is a tiny bit different? Its a tiny bit worse for me but not much. Its still a great beer.

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Off-Piste Hazelnut Porter

Im a fan of this. I do like a dark ale type flavour. The malted barley, toffee, chocolate flavours go well in a beer.

This one is surprisingly light without being too light and watery. You can taste some sweetness but again it isn’t too much.

Big Drop rarely go wrong in my opinion.

To see the latest Amazon prices then follow this link

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Galactic milk stout 0.5%

A really interesting mix of that heavy stout flavour with the lighter porter feel. Who cares about ABV and alcohol free here, this is a serious beer no matter what. I

m from Ireland and have drank plenty of stouts of all descriptions and this stacks up. Well played.

You get all the coffee, chocolate type notes you would want and more. It is no wonder this has won its fair share of awards.

For vastest prices on Amazon check them out via my link here

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

In conclusion – does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same?

Yes and no is the answer seemingly!

The non alcoholic and alcohol free market is as diverse as the alcoholic beer market. There are brilliant beers and there are truly terrible beers.

The best beers taste very close to an alcoholic beer but there are slight differences. The question now becomes, are those differences bad and do they make the taste worse? I don’t think they do.

From all my many tastings of well over 100 difference non alcoholic beers i can honestly say that the best non alcoholic beers stack up very well against the alcoholic ones. Unless you are wanting the effects of alcohol, for the most part, there is little reason to drink the alcoholic beers over the non alcoholic ones.

Please get out there and try a good variety of non alcoholic beers to get a good feel for them. They might taste slightly different at the start but when i now go back and drink an alcoholic beer, they are the ones that taste different to me now!

philmcclelland

Hi im Phil. Im the sole writer on this site. For more info look at my about page https://www.openingthebottle.com/about-us/

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